Analysis: Climate talks: 18 years, too little action?

CANCUN, Mexico Sun Dec 12, 2010 3:06am EST

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - "I was born in 1992. You have been negotiating all my life. You cannot tell us that you need more time," Christina Ora of the Solomon Islands complained to delegates at U.N. talks on fixing global warming.

Her line from a brief, riveting speech to a 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen was emblazoned on activists' T-shirts at the latest U.N. talks in Mexico, expressing exasperation at small steps meant to slow floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.

The two-week 190-nation conference in Cancun, a Caribbean resort, agreed on Saturday to step up action against climate change, including a goal of $100 billion a year to help the poor from 2020 and action to protect carbon-absorbing rain forests.

Almost all admit it fell woefully short of action needed. Cancun underscored that a treaty, as urged by Ora, is out of reach because of disparate economic interests among China, the United States, OPEC oil exporters and Pacific islands.

"Signs that climate change is happening and with catastrophic consequences are there -- flooding in Pakistan, heat waves in Russia, China," Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim said.

"This is a huge step forward but of course not sufficient based on science," he said of the Cancun agreements that at least restore some faith in the United Nations after Copenhagen fell short of the widespread goal of reaching a treaty.

The U.N. panel of climate scientists in 2007 said greenhouse gas emissions would have to peak by 2015 to give a chance of limiting a rise in average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial times -- a ceiling agreed to in Cancun.

But based on current projections, that will not happen.

Existing government policies for combating global warming will lead to a rise in world temperatures of about 3.6 C (6.5 F) above pre-industrial times, according to Niklas Hoehne, director of energy and climate policy at consultancy Ecofys.

'MATTER OF OUR SURVIVAL'

Surging economic growth in emerging nations led by China and India are helping to ease poverty but are driving up world emissions even as rich nations' economies flounder.

Such changes do not sound like much, but the difference between an Ice Age and now is only about 5 degrees C (9 F).

A new treaty has eluded the world since a U.N. Climate Convention was agreed to in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The convention's 1997 Kyoto Protocol only binds about 40 rich nations to curb emissions during an initial period ending in 2012.

Outside the conference hall, youth delegates wearing blue T-shirts with Ora's quote waved banners saying, "1.5 to stay alive." They say a temperature rise ceiling of 1.5 C (2.7 F) is needed to avoid the worst impacts.

Even to some delegates, especially from vulnerable African nations and low-lying islands at risk of sea level rise, the talks seem like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

"This is a matter of our survival," said Colin Beck, who like Ora is from the Solomon Islands and a vice-chair of the Alliance of Small Island States.

Average world temperatures have already risen about 0.8 degree C (1.4 F) since the Industrial Revolution and 2010 is set to be among the top three years on record, vying with 1998 and 2005, since records began in the 19th century.

'THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW'

Despite the gloom, others say a response is happening away from the glacial U.N. talks, with investment shifts from coal, gas and oil toward renewable energies. China is investing heavily in projects ranging from solar power to high-speed rail links.

"We've been trying to emphasize that the focus shouldn't solely be on the struggles with the treaty negotiations -- this word and that word -- because there are things you can do now," World Bank President Robert Zoellick said.

"Business is not sitting back and waiting for this process to come to a result. ... The world is moving ahead anyway," said Yvo de Boer, climate adviser at audit, tax and advisory group KPMG and a former U.N. climate chief.

He listed concerns over climate, energy prices, energy security, materials scarcity, consumer preferences and a realization that things had to change with the world population set to reach 9 billion by 2050 from 6.8 billion now.

The U.N. panel of climate scientists says it is at least 90 percent likely that human activities are the main cause of most of the global warming in the past half-century. Natural causes cannot be completely ruled out.

Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the panel, warned delegates in Cancun that one underestimated effect of climate change was that water expands as it warms, raising the oceans at the same time as more flows in from melting glaciers.

The world is destined to experience a rise in sea levels of 0.4 to 1.4 metres (1-4 feet) simply because heat in the atmosphere will gradually reach ever greater ocean depths.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Comments (8)
JeffreyS wrote:
It is such a sad joke that Reuters, and some other tired old school outlets keep whining about global warming the basis for such has been so discredited. By the way, I thought we we supposed to call it ‘Climate Change’ since it has been actually colder the last few years? Oh, forgot, ‘Hide the Decline, pass the grant money.’

Please tell 18 year old Christina that severely restricting the U.S. economy for unproven IPCC-junk science is crazy, no matter what here emotions tell her. Real science is not emotion based. Also tell her that she should be happy no radical ideas have been forced on us based on this junk political driven agenda!

Dec 12, 2010 4:48am EST  --  Report as abuse
imm wrote:
Quote from Dr B Peiser of The Global Warming Policy Foundation.

The UN climate summit shows that there is no prospect whatever for a global and legally binding climate treaty.

All that the Cancun summit has done is to bless, formally, the Copenhagen accord, and roll it forward for another year.

Despite all the usual rhetoric by politicians and campaigners, the fact remains that yet another attempt has failed to reach a legally binding agreement.

The summit has postponed, once again, all real decisions and has solidified the international deadlock. What little that was agreed was without substance and is not binding in any case.

No other country has been as foolish as Britain to enact extremely aggressive and completely unrealistic climate targets. For the UK, to keep going it alone is not merely suicidal but pointless.

Nor does it make sense to make British industry – and manufacturing in particular – even more uncompetitive, or to drive it overseas, by gratuitously driving up energy costs.

The Government should now suspend its unilateral and extremely costly climate targets until such time as all other major nations have signed up to the same course.

Dr Benny Peiser – Director, The Global Warming Policy Foundation

Dec 12, 2010 5:57am EST  --  Report as abuse
tjblacken wrote:
What bull!
This is simply earth worship and another attempt at wealth re-distribution based on liberal ‘white guilt’, that will be resisted at every level.

Dec 12, 2010 6:47am EST  --  Report as abuse
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